The doorstep

A habit of mine is to go for a walk somewhere every day of the week. Or at least try to, even if this is a little amble to the shops or a trudge through puddles in a park. It’s a habit easily fed in Canberra, where leafy suburbia intermingles with random patches of bushland and sprawling hilltop reserves, usually rising under big blue skies. I can walk out of my door and be in any number of spots that hardly feel as though they are in the middle of a city: trees and birds and kangaroos and a horizon of mountain wilderness espied in the west.

This habit bordering on obsession can become a little harder in the UK, which is surprising when you consider all the public footpaths and country lanes and bridleways and muddy fields marked on an Ordnance Survey map. British cities are denser and usually grimier and most definitely wetter, meaning a walk from the doorstep often requires a little deeper investigation, a tad more imagination, and a dose of good luck. Like finding the slightly cottagey lanes of Compton Vale in Plymouth or clumps of woodland on a steep highway embankment, or the spooky cemeteries of Janners past.

Of course, with a car the options open up exponentially, but so too do the speed cameras and the filter lanes and the traffic lights and the roundabouts clogged with cars rarely indicating. It can be a bit of a chore to get out of Plymouth for a walk, but once you make it the world is pretty much your oyster. Until the next village with a parade of speed bumps and cattle grids.

hm07

The roundabout at Roborough is a significant, welcome milestone in the escape from Plymouth; a conduit between giant superstores and industrial estates and the rambling wilds and shady valleys of Dartmoor National Park. This is Plymouth’s backyard and, once you get there, a fairly quiet one away from the usual honeypots and ice cream traps.

Even on a sunny Saturday – admittedly a bracingly cold Saturday for early May – the moor was more than ample to soak up the extra ramblers and cyclists and trippers tripping on cream teas. This includes an additional fellow in young Leo, who was adamant he was coming with us for a walk and, of course, ended up being carried the whole way. Kids, huh?!

hm01

The walk near Princetown felt a far cry from the city, all empty and remote, a desolate bleakness intensified by the icy wind casting sun and cloud patterns upon the barren brown moors. Yet here civilisation creeps in, or at least tries for a while. The solitary austere brick structure of Nun’s Cross Farm stands resolute, providing a little shelter in the lee of the wind to tame Leo’s hair. Rather than a blight on the landscape, it seems to fit, offering as much a representation of life on the moor as ponies and tumbling clusters of granite…

hm02

…And clotted cream teas. After such an frigid walk can there be anything more delightful than a log fire, buttery scones, pots of tea and the usual trimmings? It’s not like I planned the walk around this or anything, it just happened to be nearby, and we were hungry, and well… There is only so much rugged emptiness one can take. What’s the point of walking if you can’t get to enjoy it?!

hm03

———————————————–

Back through that roundabout at Roborough within the city of Plymouth, there is a pocket of countryside on the banks of the Plym, wedged between the Devon Expressway and the South Hams Tractortrack. It’s ideal for a pre-dinner stroll or – better still – post-dinner, when Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Eastenders zap the brain cells of millions of devoted followers. Saltram is a gracious property boasting copious, succulent Devonian land, including plenty of woodland pockets in which Mr Darcy can brood.

hm04

Saltram has its trails but is not without its trials. First off, National Trust property, which means the good people of busybody parkingland can’t wait to rob you of gold. For all the wonderful things the National Trust provides, it all seems a little exorbitant to me…I can’t help but feel some of the charges are siphoned off to some sycophantic Daily Telegraph fundraiser to install the natural heir to Churchill as PM. That dog from the TV ads.

The other thing with Saltram is that it takes a circuitous effort to reach by car, navigating a manic roundabout whose lanes disappear into a wormhole, and then a slip lane clogged with cars turning into Lidl for a pint of milk or 60 inch flat screen. Such is the travail of the journey, the prospect of digging into your life savings to park, and – should you mistime – the odorous tidal pong of the River Plym, that Saltram can prove a frustrating affair.

hm06Or it can be wonderful, arriving a little before rush-hour and just after the parking attendant has gone home. This yields a quiet fist pump of glee and a good mood in which to walk the parklands. Along the river, the tide is high and holding on, and clouds part to release the sun. Forget the roar of traffic along the Embankment, and the mould-tinged sails of Sainsburys, and focus instead on the flourishing green of the woods and bounteous swathes of wild garlic. Embrace the chirping birds and walk with the hope of encountering a deer.

hm05

hm08Look down upon manicured fields and be thankful that this is indeed upon your doorstep. A doorstep in which the land and sea meets, producing conditions that are often frustrating but usually fruitful. Beyond the chav-filled potholes of the city, a land of strawberries and cream or raspberries and cream or just cream goddammit.

A daily walk is an obsession not for the air, nor for the nature, nor for the killing of time in a rather pleasant way. A daily walk is the only way I can try to keep that goddam luscious cream off!

Food & Drink Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

Cream days at the hotel existence

I had spent almost two weeks overseas before making it officially home. While Bristol Airport provided little pockets of Englishness (M&S pork pie, terrible latte from Costa), and the impressive one pound Falcon Stagecoach crossed borders into luscious Devon, it wasn’t until the Sainsbury sails of Marsh Mills emerged in sight that I truly felt back home. Plymouth.

hm01It’s funny because arriving here doesn’t particularly feel exciting or exotic or out of the ordinary. But it was a moment I had longed for; I suspect precisely because it doesn’t feel exciting or exotic or out of the ordinary. I say this despite a diversion to a new coach station, the inevitable addition of more Greggs in town, and some positive additions to family structure. But at the heart of it, the connection with home yields a familiarity that is the very essence of comfort and, for the most part, happiness.

hm02Happiness is that first bite of scone with jam with clotted cream. OH. MY. GOD. Obviously this happened the day immediately after my arrival at the coach station. And it was in a new location. Cardinham Woods in Cornwall, where there was plenty of wooded green to soothe the mind, Snakes and Owls and Gruffalo to find, and deliciousness of a kind, which is unmatched anywhere on earth.

hm03

hm04Happiness is going to see a Hoe, and a very familiar one at that. That walk that I have walked five hundred times and I will walk five hundred more. Plymouth Sound constant companion by my side, the stripes of Smeaton’s Tower a backdrop to proper footy kick abouts and OAPs parked up, gazing out to ocean as they lick languidly away at their Miss Whippys. For me, it’s coffee in the sun by the Sound; shit coffee but sun and the Sound.

hm06Happiness is going to see Sarah, who is definitely not a hoe, but a very fine woman who I am hugely in love with. I have no idea who Sarah is, but she makes bloody good pasties. So much so that any other pasty is now disappointing. It means a trip to Looe, an adventure in trying to find a car park, an effort of restraining expletives as grockles spill aimlessly over the roads and flock to inferior pasty chain stores. There is achievement to be felt, reward to be had, and attention still needed to protect incredible nuggets of pastry from seagulls as undiscerning as the grockles.

Pasties are Cornwall, but Cornwall is more than pasties, as you can find out here!

hm07Meanwhile, have I mentioned the accessibility of cream teas at home? That makes me happy. Cream teas in Devon that are not Devonshire teas in Cremorne. Another quest, another discovery, this time at the Fox Tor Cafe in Princetown. It’s not much to look at – and weekends bring out an excess of Lycra – but the buttery scones are utterly Devonly divine. And the jam and cream ain’t so bad either.

hm08Happiness is not often a product of the English weather. But expectations are so, so low that you cannot fail to smile when the forecast is for light cloud and a top of nineteen degrees. Get a bank holiday weekend when the temperature builds under blue skies and you’ll find everyone turns mildly, wildly delirious. Blackened charcoal sausage is the staple food source, evenings out are comfortable and you begin to think, hmm maybe this isn’t so bad after all. Followed by the inevitable if only it could be like this all the time. These are the words uttered outside waterside pubs, along the promenades, within the leafy parks and wedged between giant hedges as countryside spills down to coast.

hm09

It has to rain sometime though. To grow grass, to colour those fields the most soothing shade of green. To make the cows happy and produce the very best cream. A landscape you criss-cross all the way to Fingle Bridge on the eastern side of Dartmoor. Where lush wooded riverside offers the picture perfect snap of Devon. Even if the scones turn out a little stale and insipid.

hm10

But Devon is far more then Devonshire Teas or – god forbid – that brand of fatty processed meat that they sell in the deli counter in Coles. Devon is more a fine, aged Serrano in the ham stakes, as you might find out here!

hm11For all its tea-based pleasures and intricacies, Devon and Cornwall – and England and the rest of the UK – is not, it must be oft said with an eye roll thrown in, accomplished in the art of coffee. But there are glimmers of hope; hope that possibly makes you think hmm maybe this isn’t so bad after all. Followed by the inevitable if only it could be like this all the time. These are the words uttered inside my head as I sup on a reasonable flat white among the glistening cobbles and boats of Plymouth’s Barbican.

hm12Happiness is the aspiration pushed by marketers at Morrisons and Sainsburys and Tesco and, yes, Aldi. The Aldi happiness is more a utilitarian, Germanic form of pleasure, and certainly hard to pinpoint at 3:30pm on a Sunday afternoon, before the stores close in a quaint but annoying reminder that Sunday used to be a day of rest. These are the temples of a kid in a candy shop or, um, actually a grown man in a candy shop. For every reliable revisit of a Double Decker there is a new discovery or a forgotten one rediscovered. Like Wispa bites, and Digestive cake bars, and more things contributing to the presence of salted caramel as a major food group. And then I see the dairy aisle and the copious supply of clotted cream, and I feel a bit sad.

Sad that I am leaving tomorrow, sad that I am leaving Plymouth, Devon, Cornwall and – eventually – the UK. Again. More than pasties and green fields and hoes and chavs and freakish warm days and even more than the clotted cream, sad to be leaving behind those who are linked by blood and love and a shared fondness of some plain old cake with a lump of tooth-rotting fruit and heart-shattering congealed cow milk on top.

But let us not dwell on such sadness, because we can squeeze in a little more happy and let that linger in our minds and our hearts. The train isn’t until three and there is a final family visit to the Fox Tor Cafe to be had…

hm13

 

Food & Drink Great Britain Green Bogey

The other side of the road

For countless miles past I have been chauffeured around the highways and byways of Devon and Cornwall by my brother. Often to head out for a walk, a spot of sightseeing, some lunch. Maybe a round of golf or a special treat to a humungous Tesco. But not until August 2016 did I only partially return the favour (albeit without the Tesco) for him and his son.

Being the midst of summer holidays it was typically overcast on the jaunt through the South Hams to Salcombe. Atypical was the lack of traffic however, and we were in the centre of town foraging for treats before you know it. Fudge, pasties, ice cream, supposedly good coffee. Fodder for a very British lunch in the refreshing drizzle, which naturally timed its arrival to perfection.

gui01

gui03Just a stone’s throw from here – but via tortuously scenic roads hemmed in by a picture postcard of thatched cottages – sit the pebbles of Slapton Sands. Even on dismal days the pebbles lend vibrancy to the air, clarity to the water, and a chance to display consistent inadequacy at skimming. The alternative option of tossing increasingly giant rocks into the sea proved far more accessible and entertaining.

————————-

The stubbornness of cloud to vanish endured the following day driving over the Tamar and towards Holywell Bay, just west of Newquay. Two things appeal here: an array of rides, games, and equipment for child entertainment and the spacious, undeveloped sandy beach. Actually three things: the pitch and putt links. No make that four: Doom Bar on tap in the golf clubhouse.

gui06As the afternoon evolved, summer came back with a bang. Perfect golfing weather and opportunity to get a little burnt. I never get burnt in Australia, only soggy little Britain, quite probably because I never expect to be on the receiving end of such ultraviolet aggression. The golf wasn’t exactly red hot, but we coped around the course sculpted in such a splendid location.

gui05

gui08aHaving abandoned a bunch of wildlings on the beach, it was late afternoon by time my brother and I rejoined the rest of the family, who didn’t seem to miss us one bit. And why would they, frolicking in the sun, attacking one another with water, jumping over surf. It was quite wonderful to see, together in perfect harmony, in amazing weather, in an attractive place. What else do you need? Fish and chips maybe? Okay.

gui07

————————-

Lots of families were in various states of disharmony in Looe on what proved to be the warmest day yet. On the coast of South East Cornwall not a million miles from Plymouth, Looe can be quite agreeable. In October or April perhaps. On a hot day in August I would say the only thing going for Looe is the presence of Sarah’s Pasty Shop. I don’t know Sarah but I would marry her tomorrow, no qualms (she also has a divine looking cake shop so there really are no negatives as far as I can see).

gui09The criminal thing – though actually fortuitous for us locals in the know – are the queues of people backing out of Ye Olde Cornish Bakehouse or West Cornwall Pasty Ltd or whatever they are called. Chain stores in mediocrity. Delivering nourishment to hordes of people trying to find a few metres on the grainy beach. This is why Looe on a hot August afternoon is not for me. But I’d go there for Sarah.

Of course, escaping crowds can be achieved by venturing out of the seaside towns and onto the coast path. Lantic Bay made a striking debut in my consciousness last year and – earning a calendar appearance – my brother was keen to soak up the cliff top views and countryside ambience. Hands down this is better than Looe, but then, the beach isn’t as accessible…something which can cause consternation amongst beach-lovers. Back to Looe it is. Hi Sarah!

gui10

————————-

gui12In a final hit and miss cloud affair in which there were more misses than hits we returned to the North Cornwall coast the next day. The aim was a last hoped-for paddle in water and delicious cream tea, something that could please everybody. The setting on the River Camel at Daymer Bay was agreeable enough, and could have been quickly heightened with a spot of sun. But it was under a mackerel sky that a few of us tiptoed into the water and clambered over rock pools.

gui13Because I was actually really enjoying driving around blind bends and along single track lanes I decided we could seek out a cream tea further up the coast near Boscastle. For once eschewing the village, we managed to get a parking spot at Boscastle Farm Shop, which hosted not only cream teas but an array of impressive looking cakes and a half decent coffee.

It’s a spot to put on the list for future visits. And with the coast path literally on the doorstep, who’s to say I will reach it by car next time around? Sometimes, passenger or driver, the best of the south west is out there on foot. Overlooking the sea with the allure of cream at the top of a hill. Lovely.

 

Driving Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

Over the hills

clr0

It wasn’t so long ago that I spent an awfully long time in the south west of England. Time that was only occasionally awful in the gloomy despair of November; otherwise it was all sunshine and lollipops or – more accurately – white cloud and clotted cream teas. Thus arriving back again on the most sublimely gorgeous of blue sky days proved no big fuss.

clr_00Who am I kidding? It was a sublimely gorgeous blue sky day after all and, following a quick embrace of various family members, I scarpered for the moors, reuniting with narrow lanes, wayward sheep, dry stone walls and a Willy’s ice cream. And on the subject of willies…such was my frantic rush to climb Sheepstor I ripped the trousers I had on while straddling a ditch, leaving me delightfully well ventilated if a little wary of human encounters. The views – from my end at least – were majestic.

clr_01

clr_02Ripping trousers so early on are not a good portent for the remainder of a holiday which has historically involved a deluge of high fat dairy products, intense sugar, and hearty stodge. The fact that I was here not so long ago for an awfully long time (acquiring at least one stone in the process), failed to have little impact on my behaviour. Pasty done, cream tea done, massive barbecue meat fest done and 48 hours not yet passed.

Lest things become all a little familiar, a circuit breaker came in the form of a Canadian visitor – Claire –  who I had not seen since 2003 in New Zealand. Visiting the country for a couple of weeks I naturally proceeded to take Claire to some familiar Cornish places and indulge in familiar Westcountry treats. But at least I got to experience them through a new pair of eyes – an experience confirming that jam on cream is definitely wrong and not at all aesthetically pleasing (I mean, what do Canadians know about cream teas anyway?!!)

clr1

clr3Unfortunately it was all a little murky in Boscastle, but at least the descent to the harbour took us out of the clouds and into a flower filled, tourist peppered, boat bobbing idyll. From which we promptly walked up and up (a seemingly recurrent theme all day) along the coast path to the western headland. Here, the clouds skimmed our heads and offered a little pleasant drizzle, obscuring the coastline and patchwork hills inland. While a weather feature atypical of Manitoba, it could only divert for a few minutes at best, and half a cream tea back at sea level felt like a more agreeable option.

clr2

Radically, the cream tea was in a new location for me. And such adventurousness continued when I stopped midway between Boscastle and Tintagel and sought to find Rocky Valley. After a touch of on road uncertainty I found the path (hint: look for the valley with lots of rocks), and it was quite a sight. Of course, walking down into a valley meant going back up again, but what would Cornwall be without all these hills, eh?

clr4

Familiar ground was back on the cards in Tintagel, where we called in for a Cornish pasty, obviously. The pasties here have acquired a legendary status over the years, rivalling those of wizards and knights and horses and pixies and things. But as such legends have become diluted by a parade of tourist tat shops, so too the pasties may well be in decline. They are still more than tolerable, but not on the pedestal they once inhabited. Next year, I will have to check again!

clr5

The Cornish pasty was of course the typical tin and copper miner’s lunch. In fact, it probably features in Poldark, crumbs smeared down the body of that actor dude that everyone seems to think is a bit of crumpet. Well, Poldark lovers, I may have trodden in his footsteps (and pasty crumbs), radically keeping my top on in the process. I cannot be sure of course, for I have never watched the goddam show, but the scenery around St Agnes looks the part. All windswept headlands, precipitous cliffs, thrashing waves, purple heather and golden gorse, with the added decoration of Wheal Coates mine. It is Cornwall in a snapshot, as Cornish as the pasty, and I am pretty sure as pleasing to a Canadian visitor as patchwork fields, jam on cream, Arthurian legends, mist, bobbing boats, and – undoubtedly – the novelty of hills, those inevitable, never-ending, Westcountry hills.

clr7

Driving Food & Drink Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

Down South

tug01Having now spent over nine years (with interruptions) in everyone’s favourite Australian city you would think I’d have exhausted every nook, crevice and scrubby hilltop. Forget nine years…many would say two days is sufficient, and even then you might have to drag things out with a wander around the National Archives, surely the least compelling sounding attraction of the lot (which might explain why, still, I have never been). But no, it turns out Canberra has even more suburbs and scrubby hilltops than you can ever imagine.

Partly, the new has been thrust upon me. Well, not so much thrust but more gently cajoled after a temporary change of residence. It’s hardly a hardship (in comparison to, say, being evicted and dragged to a mosquito-infested tropical island where you will get abused and suffer long-term mental degradation courtesy of the Australian Government). But some locals will recoil in horror, the froth atop their soy lattes spilling over onto the front page of The Australian, when they hear I am living in Tuggeranong.

Quick geography lesson: Canberra is weird and like no other city. There is a city centre, of sorts and then some town centres as well, and I suppose some village centres and suburban shopping precincts, which spread out like satellites around the town centres. Occasionally an out-of-town shopping centre muscles in to compete with the town centres and no-one goes to the city centre because they are all at the new IKEA which is on the edge of a centre on the periphery of nothing. All the important government-type stuff happens without a centre, but instead is contained within its own triangle which is more like a diamond, if you take into account the War Memorial. Meanwhile grassland wedges and lumps of trees bubble up out of a mesh of roundabouts, circles and parkways where confused cars with NSW plates frequently vanish, never to be seen again.

Tuggeranong is a town centre in the south of Canberra, with Wanniassa – where I stay for now – one of those satellite suburbs on its edge. Wanniassa is actually closer to Woden (another town centre), but I will spare you even more complexities. It’s officially part of Tuggeranong, which is believed to have a higher proportion of Bogans per square kilometre than the other Canberra towns. I cannot truly vouch for this on my forays into its cul-de-sacs. All I can report is that there is a broad cross-section of mostly Anglo-centric Australia on display, from suited public servants to Shazzas in tracky-dacks. Utage – that is the popular Australian tendency to convey oneself by pimped up utility vehicle – seems high, as does baby-booming designer spectacle wearing.

In spite of repetitiveness in its suburbia, Tuggeranong sits in quite a spectacular bowl. To the south and west, the Brindabella Ranges appear much closer and far more impenetrable. North and East, a series of Canberra hills and ridges block out the rest of the city. With a little imagination, you could picture a Swiss town in that valley, with church steeples and cowbells decorating the air (alas they filled it with concrete brutalism instead). Meanwhile, the omnipresent dome of Mount Taylor is recast as Mount Fuji, a conical summit piercing the seal of a leaden sky and drawing the Lycra-bound to its trails.

It’s no Red Hill but I have found Mount Taylor to be a convenient escape from the clutches of the valley. The lower slopes of grassland are regularly grazed by kangaroos, fattening themselves for a game of chicken on the Tuggeranong Parkway. The middle section – which flattens for much-needed respite – is all bushland shrubbery, concealing colourful rosellas and wrens and a cockatoo or two. The final ascent upon gravel is open and barren, affording views over Tuggeranong and the ever-changing weather scattered over the ridges and valleys to the west. In the other direction, the needle atop Black Mountain reminds that you are still in Canberra, and another town centre or two awaits below.

tug02a

Naturally I have not confined myself to this area – old haunts are only a 15 minute drive or so and offer greater reliability of coffee. Upon returning to one of a handful of coffee spots in the Inner South in which I regularly spread my love and money, I was astounded that they remembered my name and didn’t seem at all fussed that I hadn’t been there for over six months. While some curiosity might not have gone amiss, the warm feeling of going to a place where everybody knows your name makes it harder to sever ties.

tug05Nevertheless, it was with some contentment that I found a reasonably close reasonably decent coffee stop one Saturday morning, as part of a bike ride on the many accommodating paths in the Tuggeranong Valley. One path circumnavigates its lake, which is a poor man’s Burley-Griffin but amiable enough. Others cut through the various patches of grass set between the backs of brick houses and alongside storm drains. One route takes you up towards Oxley Hill, a reasonable but not unobtainable test of legs, and another does the long uphill drag back to Wanniassa, in which aforementioned legs turn to jelly. I may be being just a touch healthier, but with this comes justification in feasting on yet another, sadly Antipodean, cream tea.

tug04

As well as a higher-than-average distribution of Bogans, it is said that Tuggeranong gets a little more rain, at least compared with the gauge at the dry and dusty international airport. It’s the proximity of the mountains you see, and the bubbling up of storm clouds. Some of these have been very generous in their distribution of rain in the last couple of weeks, transforming Aussie golden to English green.

With these mountains just a touch closer, wilderness practically on your doorstep, ridges almost always framing your vista, there is a magnetic appeal to that which lies nearby. The fresh air of the bush is tantalisingly close to Tuggers. And for that, and really quite a lot else, it can’t be much faulted.

tug06

Australia Green Bogey Society & Culture

Tasty taster

I suppose it is not uncommon to arrive in Plymouth in the midst of summer to find the place bedecked in insipid drizzle. A shroud of gloom so dank that even the statue of Sir Francis Drake stares out blankly, wondering where the rather large body of Plymouth Sound has gone and thus if it has been stolen by the Spanish. It’s a welcome that temporarily makes you question why you bothered, offering reassurance that you are doing the right thing by not living here. And then the weather clears.

swA01In the space of one week, you remember to make the most of drier and clearer slots sparingly scattered across the southwest summer, and race to the moors, the coast, the countryside. Dartmoor is literally on the doorstep: one minute it’s all superstores and industrial units and Wimpey homes, the next rolling farmland and upland tors. Somewhere amongst the wilderness you may have the good fortune to deliberately stumble upon a cream tea. And once more, you are back in Utopia.

swA02

Across the border, a pilgrimage to the North Cornwall coast is a must, unifying the potential for pasties, fudge, and ice cream with rugged scenery and pretty towns. There are so many pretty towns with so many pasty, fudge and ice cream shops that is hard to know which one to raid. Experience proves a good option is to hone in towards Tintagel, and have it all.

swA04First though there is Boscastle which is just simply a delight, no matter the weather (although the deluge causing flash flood variety does tend to put a downer on things). Ducking in to a cute cafe by the water as a shower passes overhead, it is all sunshine and smiles the other side of a typically variable flat white. The summer of sorts reappears, and a sweater can be removed in the sheltered harbour glow.

swA03

swA05Tempting cakes and bakery goodies are purgatory, but you push on in the knowledge that a Pengenna pasty awaits up the road in Tintagel. A meal in itself, today it is the main reason for stopping there. A walk past plastic Arthurian swords and St Austell Ales, it nourishes but is underwhelming. High expectations from past delectations are hard to satisfy, but solace comes from a creamy fudgy pile of ice cream from Granny Wobbly instead.

What better way to burn off just a few of the calories than in Port Isaac? Doc Martin and an array of quirky characters with affected bumpkin accents may have walked these narrow streets, but today it is over to the tourists. Most are taking pictures of the places where Doc Martin and an array of quirky characters have walked the streets, but some – like me – push on through the town. Up onto yet another gargantuan headland with views of the harbour and coastline stretching north to Hartland. Inland, as the rain clouds refuse to budge over Bodmin Moor, patchwork farms go about their business of producing life essentials, many of which I feel I have eaten today.

swA06

So, a cream tea, pasty and fudgy pile of goodness completed in little under 24 hours, ticking off both the wilds of Dartmoor and the coves and crevices of the North Cornish coast. Occasional rain days offer more mundane revisitations around Plymouth, but the foodstuffs continue apace. A roast dinner, proper Cadbury’s, and even a barbecue in a bright and breezy sixteen degrees mate.

swA07All this eating necessitates exercise, I guess. If I was in Canberra I would head up Red Hill but here I can return to Dartmoor. Waking early on a Saturday morning, little traffic on the roads heading gradually up through suburbs and to higher ground, half of Devon and much of Cornwall reveals itself. It is, again, bright and breezy, just the ponies for company in the lee of Sharpitor. Selfies are needed, but the emptiness, the space, the clear air, the expanse is a joy to behold in this sometimes claustrophobic country.

swA09

swA08

swA10Sigh…if only you could get a good coffee. Hang on, what’s this? It still requires further validation, but there could be something with potential. A flat white which is flat and white and creamy and not scalding hot with a pile of insipid froth on top. Blended together with a mellow strength. Served in a glass as if a latte but I can forgive that. I will have to come back and reinvestigate.

Fortunately there are fine cakes and pastries on offer even if future coffees end up being awful. And there is always tea. With a scone. And maybe some jam. And a smidgeon of cream. And a landscape which is as delicious in the admittedly intermittent summer sun. It is the Ambrosia, and I will come back to taste it again.

Food & Drink Green Bogey Photography Walking

The ice cream bucket list challenge

Laydeez and gentlemun, welkum to Landan Saaaaaaaaffend, where the temprator is nynedeen digreez innit and the cockles an whelks are fresh from the eshtry mud.

ukA00As gateways to Great Britain go, it is a bit different, but Essex is indeed British soil and there is comfort at seeing the red cross of St George adorning the council estates and in smelling the fish and chips on Southend seafront. Should Southend be a little too bedecked with commoners awaiting a summer carnival parade, Leigh-on-Sea is a tad more upmarket with white stiletto undertones. Home to several cosy pubs spilling out onto the mud and water, an ale and hearty burger brings me back to a Britain obsessed with pulled pork and bake offs.

Hertfordshire is the classier cousin to Essex, where inspiring place names like Potters Bar and Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City are linked by motorways and single file country lanes alike. Interspersed within this, offering views of giant pharmaceutical empires and a procession of easyjets bound for Luton, stands Knebworth House. Perhaps best known for Oasis and Robbie Williams mega-concerts it may come as a surprise to hear that Knebworth is rather refined. The archetypal crusty upper class country estate, complete with musty carpets, majestic libraries and derring-do tales of empire building. Gardens with fancy lawns and fancier sculptures, a copse littered with giant fibreglass dinosaurs serving as inspiration for damned colonial upstarts such as Clive Palmer. On an increasingly sunny summer afternoon, as deer graze the meadows and country pubs await, this is England, but not quite my England.

ukA01

The next day brings the homecoming within a homecoming as I depart London for Plymouth. That’s not before saying farewell to the iconic capital with two friends who I met in Australia and who I can continue to enjoy pizza with – whether on Bondi or near Bankside – to this day. It is a happy conclusion to the English prelude and the level of unhealthy eating signifies the start of many days enduring essential foodstuffs, the real super foods that are far away from a land of quinoa and hipster-nurtured compressed kale shavings.

ukA02Gargantuan fish and chips were a starter prior to a night at Home Park, watching a rather lame game of football thankfully enlivened by Guillaume the French nephew shouting ‘come on you greens’ in an adorable accent. It worked, for we managed to scramble a deep into injury time penalty equaliser. More sedate, slightly less greasy but perhaps as equally lardy as those fish and chips was the Devon cream tea; the Devon cream tea that takes place in the same spot on Dartmoor practically every year but is a tradition which never fails to be anything other than marvellous. That first bite of scone and jam and – mostly – rich, buttery, clotted cream is like the feeling from a first sip of morning coffee multiplied ten million times. The river valley setting and surrounding tors amplify it further.

ukA03

ukA04Indeed, becoming as traditional as the cream tea is the slightly guilt-driven walk up Sharpitor, which is still just a gentle and brief jaunt for hilltop views of half of Devon and Cornwall. Traipsing up with family could get a little repetitive if it wasn’t so rewarding, an annual canvas for Facebook photos and Snapchat selfies amongst the clitter and ponies of the high moor.

ukA05The Cream Tea on Dartmoor Experience is just one required escapade for the bucket list. The next one to tick off is the Cornish Pasty in Cornwall Adventure. Today this requires a rather trundling and busy train journey all the way down towards the pointy end. St. Ives is not only a reputed haven for artists, but possesses one of the more accessible by public transport shopfronts for Pengenna Pasties, where artists create masterpieces of delicious shortcrust pastry stuffed full of meat and vegetables and seasoning. Eaten on the beach, of course.

ukA06

I should not neglect here to give a special commendation to Moomaids of Zennor. While their clotted cream vanilla (what else?!) was nothing remarkable, I was hoping that the Cornish sea salt caramel was never going to end. It may feature as a staple of the next Cornish Pasty in Cornwall Adventure (with Bonus Local Ice Cream Discovery).

ukA07Away from food (for a little while), it is about time I mentioned the weather. For should I not write about food nor weather, what will I have left?! Temperatures were well below average as the shorts and sandals in my luggage remained largely untouched, while clean jumpers came at a premium. But there was plenty of dry and fine weather. This meant that, on occasion, clean jumpers would need to come off and then quickly returned once the sun disappeared behind the clouds scuttling across the sky on a chilling sea breeze. It was weather not so much for sunbathing but ideal for family fun in West Hoe Park, where nieces and nephews were able to relive one’s own youth by venturing on the iconic – yes, iconic – Gus Honeybun train and bouncy castle, and create their own memories in a pirate ship mini golf water boats gold panning extravaganza.

ukA08

ukA09It was all rather delightful, aided and abetted by bucket list ice cream and raspberries and clotted cream on the foreshore and then, a little later, waterfront dining on the Barbican courtesy of Cap’n Jaspers (so it’s back to the food then already…). A day to remind, as was mentioned several times, that Plymouth finds itself in a quite enviable position compared with – say – Wolverhampton or Corby or Blackburn or pretty much anywhere else not on the sea and in the midst of such coastal and pastoral splendour.

ukA10This undeniable splendour provides the context for one essential bucket list item for a perfect southwestern experience. The oft-quoted, oft-photographed, oft-walked South West Coast Path. I figure that maybe by the time I reach old age I may just have covered around 10% of this amazing trail. On a day that started with grey clouds and rain, the train trip to Truro and a tactical delaying coffee enabled the weather to perk up, and by time I reached St. Agnes on the bus, patches of blue sky were promising much. In fact, the sun very much came out when munching on the world’s best sausages rolls from St. Agnes bakery.

Up over St Agnes beacon, the north coast view stretches down to St. Ives and, heading in this direction, I found myself clocking up a new section of path leading towards Porthtowan. The main features along this typically wild and rugged stretch are the old tin workings and mine buildings of Wheal Coates. If North Cornwall can be summed up in one scene it is from here, which probably explains why it featured as the cover image for Ginster’s Pasties. And I had a sausage roll, tut tut!

ukA11

ukA12There was a point into this walk that something quite unexpected happened. I was feeling a little hot. Yes, the sun was well and truly out and I was able to covert my convertible trousers to shorts, roll down my black socks a little, and bare some leggy flesh. I applied sunscreen, wore a hat, and, by time I reached Porthtowan, felt long overdue an ice cream. However, no sufficiently suitable ice cream was readily available near the beach and I settled for a cold beer instead to happily wind down the time until a bus back to Truro.

ukA14The North Cornwall Walking Wondrousness Trip pretty much meant that the Westcountry bucket list had been amply satisfied. The final day down there offered a bonus with a family day out on the train to Looe. It’s not so far from Plymouth but the journey provides a reminder of the lovely countryside of southeast Cornwall and on the branch line to Looe it could still easily be the 1950s. Looe itself offered its reliable fill of narrow lanes, fish and chip smells, bucket and spades and, for me, one final and very commendable pasty! Again, there was something approaching heat, meaning that shorts – if I had them with me – would have been more than acceptable in the afternoon.

ukA15

ukA13The train ride back offered that final hurrah and farewell to Cornwall, resplendent and verdant in the late summer sunshine. For once, the same could not be said of Devon, as I departed the following day in a somewhat murky, drizzly air. I missed seeing the white fluffy clouds and whiter fluffier sheep, the glimmering Teign estuary and glass sea of Dawlish. Even so, it was again sad to leave, the murk reflecting a melancholy that drifts along to Exeter. The holiday is not over, the visits and sights await, and there are more cherished friends and family to see. But it does feel that a holiday within a holiday, a homecoming within a homecoming has drawn to a close once again. ‘Til next year.

Food & Drink Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

Cream

I grew up in Devon, England. On paper it may sound idyllic for Devon surely conjures images of rolling green hills and tinkling rivers, bobbling their way down to the sea past thatched cottages and fields of sheep and cow [1]. The image is ingrained on a can of Ambrosia custard, a can which may be spotted overflowing from a pile of black bin bags in a grimy back lane of Plymouth, Devon, as I endeavour to find the shortest route home from school, avoiding the dog mess and scary people hanging around the dreary Thatcher-era jobcentre. The can is eventually collected by a wearily underpaid and grizzled local, transporting it by diesel truck to a stinking pile of garbage, where seagulls scavenge for bits of leftover pastie and people scavenge for usable second hand furniture and car boot trinkets. When it comes to custard cans, what you see is not exactly everything that you get.

That is not to say the custard can is a total fabrication, and the idyllic Devon does exist in spades, particularly once you get out of some of the more run down parts of its towns and cities. Within fifteen minutes of that cobbled back alley I can be on the edge of Dartmoor, with the rolling hills spanning ever higher until they become barren and sparse, topping out with crumbling rocks that eventually give up pushing their way out of the earth and tumble downwards over the steep hillside, like a very very slow moving volcanic eruption of granite. Here lie rocks that I once had the dubious pleasure of measuring for a geography field trip on the kind of day where misty rain sits stagnant in the air and soaks you to the bone. Still, it was so worth it to learn that there was some correlation between the size of the granite rocks and their position on the hillside [2].

By now you may be thinking this is all rather nice but what has any of this got to do with the letter C? It all seems to be a bit D like, rambling on about Devon and Dartmoor. And while there is something to be said for a double D it is not conducive to the order and logic that you have set yourself with this quite possibly pointless time-wasting task of writing something about each bloody letter of the alphabet like you are some magic floating pencil on Sesame Street. However, to you naysayers I pronounce that it is a truth universally acknowledged that when I return to Devon from wherever I have been lately I make a beeline for one thing: cream. Thick, yellow dollops of local clotted cream, with jam and scones and tea, or treacle tart, or ice cream and raspberries, or, well, just about anything. This exercise is not solely restricted to Devon, and the county of Cornwall can also be cleverly incorporated. Cornwall, custard cans, cream, coagulated coronaries. That’s clearly more like it.

Though I could lovingly list out the top ten cream tea moments or some such, I want to first draw out an expanded definition of creaminess, without degenerating into smutty innuendo too much. I think creamy can be appropriately used as an adjective to describe the landscape of Devon and Cornwall as it can nowhere else, in its cosy seaside villages, its wooded river valleys and rolling quilt of comforting green hills. In a Fifty Sheds type way [3], you can definitely have a ‘creamy’ experience, squeezing through tight country lanes to go for an invigorating stride in the countryside, butterflies and bees milling about in the dappled sunlight as tits and warblers penetrate the air. This is a rich and verdant landscape that produces, and is thus encapsulated, in that dollop of smooth, silky heart attack.

Creamy collage

Incidentally, I love how, being at the extremes of the country, Devon and Cornwall have taken cream to the max by making it ‘clotted’ or, if you like, ‘extreme cream’. I think there is an embodiment of local spirit and independence here, the fact that some bumpkins have done something a little against the grain, taking unpasteurised cream and simmering it and skimming the very richest part off the top for themselves. They have undoubtedly created something to be targeted in future obesity campaigns and crackdowns by Brussels Bureaucrats as writers to the Daily Mail letters page would have us get in a flap about. But I don’t think they will get anywhere, for locals will resist in a barrage of fine Westcountry accents: “Arh sod it, a lil bid a cream wownt urt yer now, willett?”

If I was to pick one spot in Devon that is particularly creamy to me (though I should caution, not in a cream my pants sense) it would be the small village of Noss Mayo. It’s only a short jaunt from Plymouth but another world entirely; a cluster of cosy coloured cottages cascading down a narrow wooded valley to meet the gently bobbing boats on Noss Creek. Here lies a starting and finishing point for a fairly easy yet delightful walk that captures an archetypal, timeless Devon. There are country lanes rising past fields of sheep and hay and dotted islands of buttercups. There is the coastal headland, from where you can look far down to splintered rock fingers reaching out at the shimmering blue water. There is the estuary and river, which is fringed with copious, flourishing woodland, and then the creek itself, upon which sits a perfect pub. The only thing lacking – ironically – is a cream tea, which the pub never seems to offer, though a cider is recompense, especially since it too handily begins with a C.

Noss Mayo

For a full on Devon Cream Tea there are some fond memories past, but for a regularly reliable, convenient experience in a still quite blissful setting it would be hard to beat the endeavours of the Badgers Holt Tearooms on Dartmoor. At something of a tourist honeypot on the River Dart, here they simply make the cream the star, with scones and jam mere portals for the thick pale yellow cream piled high in a china bowl. A similar experience more off the beaten track – though I cannot vouch for its reliability having only been there once – was found at the Fingle Bridge Inn, visiting a few years back with my brother and his partner on one of our once regular cream-seeking excursions.  We would go on these day trips for a good walk and some sightseeing, though secretly we all knew it was mostly about the cream tea and the other things were just diverting time-fillers!

Alas such creaminess is rarer these days. Being based in Australia will do that, where a Devonshire Tea frequently comes with squirty cream from a can (I kid you not!), and variations of ‘Australian style’ clotted cream are more milk-like than anything else [4]. The problem is the antipodean distaste for bacteria, by way of unpasteurised milk products, which I assume are considered a risk to the unique flora and fauna of this nation. So, rather than enjoying a fine cream tea and letting microbes run riot through the wild streets of Vaucluse, we destroy the country by pillaging its resources and selling them all on the cheap to China. Times have moved on. It is, after all, the Asian Century.

A redeeming feature of Australia is that they do generally make good use of cream when it comes to a Pavlova. In fact, the Christmas just past provided a perfect example, confirming that you can never have too much cream on a Pavlova because there is fresh fruit involved and that is healthy, right? Other countries too do not fare so badly. In Slovenia, there is Bled cake, which practically involves three inches of whipped cream sandwiched between two light pastry layers. In France there are any number of pastries involving some intricate creamy surprise; or think of Crème de Chantilly atop a Mont Blanc size ice cream. And in Switzerland there is La Crème de Gruyere…

 Gruyere

Gruyere is noted of course for another dairy based product, which itself could form an entirely different and probably more entertaining entry under the letter C. And true to form I will fondly remember the fondue in the immaculate medieval town square and the odd, and thus very Swiss, self-guided tour though the cheese factory [5]. Gruyere feels a bit like a concocted Swiss fantasy, designed atop a hill to lure cheese eating tourists. Surrounding mountains are not as grand as elsewhere, but offer a teaser of what lies beyond, a more manageable scene of hills and lakes, vines and meadows, rather than the eye-goggling and neck bracing spires and hulks of the high Alps. It has its requisite fill of castles and churches, courtyards and window boxes, cafes and gift shops. It is, then, perfect coach tour day trip territory.

It was partly a result of arriving early to miss most of the hordes that my brother and I found ourselves with time to spare before it could be deemed acceptable to eat lunch and drink wine. It must have been before eleven or something. Having explored all that the town had to offer, walking from one end to the other, even down a little out of the way to a church, and climbing town walls, and still with time to kill, we headed to a cafe that looked like it was kind of open maybe; well, at least the waitress let us in though without much of a welcome. A coffee was a good call (now there is another C I could write about with very much less detriment to Australia). This was nothing special in itself, very un-Australian in fact, which makes sense given we are in Switzerland remember. But it did come with a little chocolate cup, filled with this Crème de Gruyere stuff.

At this point the mind plays a trick as it’s naively thinking, hmm, this could taste a little weird, I mean Gruyere cream, Gruyere is a cheese, right, and this is cream from it or something, like the dregs once all the lumpy bits have been squeezed out?! I doubt if this is anywhere near true, but that’s what the mind associates with Gruyere. The stupid mind needs to stop being so lazy in its word association and just think that, well, actually, it’s just another product from those very well cared for, loved and happy cows chewing those lush meadows with the flavours of 31 different grass, herb and flower species or something. It only turns a little cheesy when you buy too much to take home and it gets neglected after a few days because you have been snowed under eating far too many other treats, many of which are also dairy based. Calcium deficiency cannot be a problem here.

Anyway, it was a delightful little nugget in a delightful setting, which is often the case with the best cream based experiences. Perhaps this stems from being able to appreciate a direct link between your surroundings and the produce in front of you; in fact there may even be cows mooing in the background as you collapse with a blocked artery and the ambulance arrives. The cows keep on mooing regardless, continuing to produce a very basic ingredient that is turned by man into all sorts of delight. I think good cream is a result of good country, happy, contented animals and people with respect for traditions and tasty food. Traditions such as jam first then cream, or cream first and…or… well, who cares, just whop it on there and shove it in your mouth me lover. That’s how we do it in the Westcountry.


[1] Lately, some of these tinkling rivers have grown to large brown lakes, cutting off Devon from the rest of the world and, sadly, inundating many homes

[2] Smaller rocks had managed to flee further down the hill. I think. The mist made it hard to tell, not to mention the 25 years that have since passed.

[4] One notable exception is from a small dairy in Tasmania, whose name I am not going to mention for fear of their products always being sold out when I look for them.

[5] Completing the clichés that day were a mountain cog train ride and chocolate factory tour. It was thus an amazing day.

Links

Oo-ar, it’s ambrosia: http://www.ambrosia.co.uk/range/ambrosia-devon-custard/

Dartmoor granite, tors and clitter: http://www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk/learningabout/lab-printableresources/lab-factsheetshome/lab-geologylandforms

The Ship Inn, Noss Mayo: http://www.nossmayo.com/

Badgers Holt: http://www.badgersholtdartmoor.co.uk/

The Fingle Bridge Inn: http://www.finglebridgeinn.com/

La Gruyere: http://www.la-gruyere.ch/en/

Mastering the art of Jannery: http://www.chavtowns.co.uk/2005/02/plymouth-the-janner-textbook/

A to Z Europe Food & Drink